Aridity is the defining characteristic of the American West, and scientists reported Friday that the region is becoming even more arid due to human-caused climate change, putting states like Nevada at greater risk of water shortages, extreme wildfire, habitat loss and heat waves.
The National Climate Assessment, a 1,656-page report prepared by 13 federal agencies on Friday, painted a stark future in which prolonged droughts could create water insecurity in basins across the Southwest should policymakers not act to mitigate future climate change and adapt to changes already underway. In addition to causing disruption to everyday life, climate change in the Southwest is expected to affect industries like agriculture and ranching.
Nevada, the most mountainous state in the contiguous U.S. and the seventh largest state by area, straddles several ecosystems that would likely be harmed by hotter temperatures and changes to precipitation. Many of these early effects are already apparent, the report noted.
In the past two years alone, northeastern Nevada saw the state’s largest single fire while Southern Nevada saw an increase in heat-related deaths amid record-breaking summer temperatures.
“These are alarm bells that are going off right now,” said David Breshears, a University of Arizona ecologist and a report co-author, pointing to extreme wildfires and water shortages across the region.
The report cited dropping water levels at Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam about 30 miles from Las Vegas, as a prime example of how climate change has affected regional water supplies. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River system, stores water for millions of Americans and hundreds of farms downstream in Southern Nevada, California and Arizona.
Since the nearly two-decade drought began in 2000, the snowpack-fed reservoir has lost about 60 percent of its water because of overuse and arid conditions worsened by climate change. A paper released earlier this year showed that Colorado River streamflow has decreased by about 15 percent over the past 100 years with half of those decreases attributed to higher temperatures.
from the Grand Canyon News (Williams-Grand Canyon News):
With the 2019 Centennial celebration of Grand Canyon National Park on the horizon, Grand Canyon Conservancy (formerly Grand Canyon Association) and Grand Canyon National Park have announced a calendar of events for the year. Ranging from activities at the canyon to special presentations in cities throughout Arizona, the Centennial events have something for everyone.
“We’re excited to share this milestone celebration with the millions of people who love, care for, and visit the Grand Canyon each year. The Centennial is a time for reflection on the past and inspiration for the future. We honor those who have called Grand Canyon home for thousands of years while building towards a future that is inclusive and reflective of our nation,” said Christine Lehnertz, Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park.
Events at the canyon include a Centennial celebration on February 26, 2019 (the actual Centennial date), a fun-filled Summerfest & Star Party on the South and North Rims in June, and other special performances and presentations throughout the year.
“We look forward to commemorating 100 years of the National Park Service at Grand Canyon, while inspiring future generations to experience, connect with, and protect the canyon’s unique resources,” said Susan Schroeder, Grand Canyon Conservancy CEO. “The Centennial events are a wonderful way to build awareness of the vital conservation, restoration, and education efforts supported by Grand Canyon Conservancy donors.”
Through September 2019 “Splendor & Spectacle: The 100-Year Journey of Grand Canyon National Park” exhibition at NAU Cline Library, Flagstaff.
January 11 – 12 “Grand Canyon Suite” performances by the Phoenix Symphony
January 15 Martin Luther King, Jr. National fee-free day at Grand Canyon
February 20 – 24 Grand Canyon Historical Society Symposium at Shrine of the Ages
February 22 Community Centennial Celebration in Tusayan
February 23 “Teddy Roosevelt: The Man in the Arena” performance at Shrine of the Ages auditorium
February 26 Founder’s Day Centennial Celebration at the South Rim Visitor Center
March 1 “Mapping Grand Canyon” conference at ASU in Tempe.
March 2 – 3 “Grand Canyon State” performances by the Tucson Symphony
April 9 Grand Canyon Storytellers event in Phoenix
April 16 Naturalization Ceremony at Mather Amphitheatre
April 20 National Park Week fee-free day
May 10 Railroad Day/Transcontinental Sesquicentennial
May 17 – 19 Grand Gathering: Grand Canyon Conservancy supporters’ weekend
May 18 Pete McBride presentation: “Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim” at Shrine of the Ages
May 19 Powell Memorial plaque dedication
May 24 – 25 Wildlife Days
June 22 Junior Ranger Day
June 22 – 29 Centennial Summerfest and Star Party
Through July “Echoes from the Canyon” living history exhibit
July 4 Independence Day Parades – Flagstaff and Tusayan
Through August American Indian Heritage Days
Through September Hispanic Heritage Month
September 7 – 15 Celebration of Art
September 28 Public Lands fee-free day
September 28 Naturalization Ceremony
November 9 – 10 Native American Heritage Month celebration
November 11 Veterans’ fee-free day
November 28 Community Holiday Open House at Visitor Center Plaza
The lower Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
One efficient and effective form of collaboration on the Colorado River, in the Grand Canyon. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.
The U.S. Whitewater Rafting Team trains on its custom-built raft in December on the Colorado River. The team was on pace for a record descent of the 277-mile canyon [January 14-15, 2017] when a wave broke the frame and punctured a tube. Photo Special to The Denver Post by Forest Woodward.
Peter McBride at the oars and camera Grand Canyon June 2015
The confluence of Havasu Creek with the Colorado River (river mile 157) is a popular place for boaters to stop and admire the striking blue-green water of Havasu Creek. The turquoise color is caused by water with a high mineral content. At the point where the blue creek meets the turbid colorado river there often appears a definite break. NPS photo by Erin Whittaker.
Crystal Rapid via HPS.com
Fog-filled Grand Canyon
Fog-filled Grand Canyon
Brighty the pancake-loving donkey: Bobby McKee rides his trusty partner, Brighty, while fetching water for residents at the Wylie Way camp in the Grand Canyon in 1918. (Photo courtesy of Marth Krueger)
Grand Canyon sunset April 22, 2013 via the NPS
Via the USGS
Grand Canyon from Grandview Point January 24, 2009 via the National Park Service
The directors of the Colorado River Water Conservation District voted Monday to endorse a new state policy regarding “drought contingency planning” designed to bolster water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, with the larger goal of avoiding violating the Colorado River Compact.
The support of the River District board, which represents 15 Western Slope counties, was expected. The district’s general manager, Andy Mueller, spoke in favor of the policy before the CWCB directors unanimously voted to approve it Nov. 15 at a meeting in Golden.
Expected or not, the support by the River District board was seen a key step in the fast-moving effort to get the four states in the upper Colorado River basin, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, and the three states in the lower river basin, California, Arizona and Nevada, to keep working together on a plan to keep the two biggest reservoirs on the river system functioning as intended.
Lake Powell today is 43 percent full. The giant reservoir formed by Glen Canyon Dam typically receives 10.3 million acre-feet of water flowing into it from the Colorado, Green and San Juan rivers each year. But annual inflows have been less than 5 million acre-feet for seven of the past 18 years, and have been below average for 15 of the past 18 years, according to a summary of recent water meeting at Colorado Mesa University prepared by Ken Ransford, the secretary of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.
Water from the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal rivers flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.
Water managers say three more dry years could leave the reservoir too low to make hydropower at the dam, and then if drought continues, too low to release enough water to meet the upper basin’s obligations to the lower basin, which could trigger a compact call.
The timing of the River District’s vote Monday was also important, as the seven basin states are working to gain basin-wide consensus on a series of related drought contingency agreements by the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas from Dec. 12 to 14.
And if the River District had not endorsed the state’s new policy, it could have signaled discord on the plans between Colorado’s Western Slope and Front Range.
“We recognize that these policies are far from perfect. We do, however, believe that they represent a good-faith effort by the CWCB at demonstrating leadership and a commitment to many of the policies adopted by our board,” Mueller said in a Nov. 23 memo to the district’s board of directors.
The new Colorado policy, which has now been endorsed by the River District, voices the state’s support for setting up a regulated pool of water in Lake Powell designed to boost reservoir levels.
That pool of water — a tiny bucket within a very big bucket — is to be filled through a voluntary, temporary and compensated demand management, or water-use reduction, program that has yet to be set up across the upper basin states.
Colorado’s new policy also says if the voluntary program does not send enough water to the new pool in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtail program is necessary to avoid a compact call, that such a mandatory program be set up only after a public process.
The policy also says that the voluntary program will be designed to cut back on water use on both sides of the Continental Divide so as to minimize economic hardship being focused on just one part of the state.
“One of the primary areas of concern for the West Slope conservation districts is that any demand management program not have disproportionate impacts on the West Slope and that water contributed to such a program be produced in rough proportion to the post compact depletions to the Colorado River system from both sides of the continental divide,” wrote Mueller in his Nov. 23 memo.
Marti Whitmore, who represents Ouray County on the River District board, put that concern in plain terms Monday: “I want the Front Range to actually have to turn off the spigot, so to speak.”
Soft on prior appropriation?
The River District’s endorsement of the new state policy was not without some contention, including issues raised by Glenn Porzak, the water attorney for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, which together provide water for 65,000 users in the Vail and Eagle County region.
Porzak had concerns about whether the state policy represented a retreat from the prior appropriation doctrine in Colorado, which is summed up by the phrase “first in time, first in right.”
In his letter, Porzak said language in the new state policy about potential future compact administration “is an obvious effort to protect transmountain diverters with junior water rights and should be alarming to all senior West Slope water managers, owners and organizations charged with protecting those rights.”
Porzak also questioned whether the CWCB would advocate in the future for strict adherence to the prior appropriation system, where junior water rights are cut off before senior rights, and especially water rights in use before the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed.
“The lack of commitment to the state’s constitution and laws demonstrates its intent to deviate from them should a compact call occur,” Porzak said in his letter.
The River District board discussed Porzak’s concerns and then ended up taking three votes on carefully worded motions, all of which passed.
The first vote was to formalize the River District’s support for the regional drought contingency planning efforts and the setting up a voluntary demand management program in Colorado and the other upper basin states.
That motion also said “the River District will continue to advocate on behalf of West Slope water uses in future discussions concerning a demand management program.”
The second vote was to voice the district’s support for a public process in the event that a mandatory effort was needed.
And in response to Porzak’s concerns, that motion also said the River District will only support curtailment policies or actions that are consistent with the district’s own policies regarding the Colorado River Compact.
The River District’s policy, last updated in July, recognizes that some flexibility in how the prior appropriation system is administered may be needed in the future, given the complexity of actually curtailing water rights across four Western Slope river basins based strictly on their priority date.
The third vote taken Monday by the River District board was to support, in concept, the short piece of federal legislation that is soon to be introduced and is required to allow the drought contingency planning efforts to take effect.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2018.